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  • Writer's pictureB.M. Allsopp

A tail of two cats: Tigger and Trim

I lost my cat Tigger last week. When I say lost, I mean he died. The vet diagnosed a head tumour and recommended she put him to sleep as he was suffering. He died lying in our laps as we stroked him and told him what a wonderful friend he was. He was 13 and we expected to enjoy his companionship for several more years. Tigger was tabby with sharp markings and lynx-like black tufts on the tips of his ears. He was a most affectionate and sociable puss who loved human company, playing the host to our visitors with aplomb. A stickler for the daily routine, he kept us from letting ourselves go in retirement. My husband and I miss him very much.

Tigger's death has made me think again about Matthew Flinders.

Captain Matthew Flinders of the Royal Navy was a fine navigator and cartographer. As an 18 year-old, he sailed under Captain William Bligh on Providence during Bligh's second voyage to collect breadfruit seedlings in Tahiti and deliver them to Jamaica. The first attempt to do this had ended infamously in Tahiti when Bligh's first mate led a mutiny on the Bounty. Bligh and 18 loyal crew were cast off in a longboat to certain death. But Bligh navigated 4,000 nautical miles west through the Fiji Islands and the Torres Strait south of New Guinea. After seven weeks he landed in the Dutch colonial outpost of Timor . What better teacher could there be for an 18 year-old midshipman? Part of Flinders' training was charting thirty of the southern Fiji islands on the return voyage from Tahiti. Fiji even issued a series of coins to commemorate Flinders in 2002.

Flinders is best known for his 18-month circumnavigation of Australia ten years after his service with Bligh. During this voyage on a small ship, Investigator, he made accurate and exquisite maps of the uncharted coast. He was also the first to refer to the entire continent as Australia and to determinedly promote this name despite influential opposition. What is not so well known is that among his steadfast shipmates was a black cat, Trim. Whenever he stayed ashore, Flinders took Trim with him - from ship's cat to house-cat with a flick of his thick tail.

When Flinders was imprisoned by the French on the Isle de France (Mauritius) for seven years, he put his time to good use completing his superbly detailed

charts and writing his two-volume A Voyage to Terra Australis. He also wrote a short memoir of his beloved Trim, who died on the island. Trim's memoir was discovered in the archives of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and published for the first time in 1973. Any cat lover who reads Trim will think of Flinders with great warmth as well as admiration. Flinders is a hero to my husband, who named his day-sailer Trim.

A bronze statue of Matthew Flinders has long stood outside the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, which holds many of Flinders' charts and papers . In 1996 a

bronze cat appeared, perched on a window sill behind his life-long companion. (You might need to expand this photo to spot Trim to the left of the plinth.)

statues of flinders and Trim at NS Library in Sydney
Flinders and Trim just left of the plinth (Wikipedia)

Trim's statue was unveiled by a rear-admiral before four hundred guests, regaled by the Naval Reserve Band. The library has a Cafe Trim where you can buy Trim T-shirts and tea towels as well as the little 50-page book. I think Flinders would be surprised and pleased by this, more than two centuries after their deaths. But Trim would accept the fuss as nothing more than his due.

Matthew Flinders prefaced his little book with this dedication.

To the memory of Trim,

the best and most illustrious of his race,

the most affectionate of friends,

faithful of servants,

and best of creatures.

He made the Tour of the Globe

and a voyage to Australia,

which he circumnavigated and was ever the

delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers.

Returning to Europe in 1803, he was shipwrecked

in the Great Equinoxial Ocean;

This danger escaped, he sought refuge and assistance

at the Isle of France, where

he was made prisoner, contrary to the laws of

Justice, of Humanity and of French National Faith;

and where, alas! he terminated his useful

career, by an untimely death,

being devoured by the Catophagi of

that island.

Many a time

statue of flinders' cat Trim at the NSW Library
Trim on the windowsill (Wikipedia)

have I beheld his little merriments

with delight,

and his superior intelligence with surprise:

Never will his like be seen again!

Trim was born in the Southern Indian Ocean

in the Year 1799, and

perished as above at the Isle of France

in 1804.

Peace be to his shade, and

Honour to his memory

Left: Trim has been memorialised more recently in a statue in Flinders' birthplace, Donington in England. A delightful detail is shown here.

Right: A cast of Trim's statue in London has been erected in Port Lincoln, South Australia, which Flinders named for his county city.

Flinders' body was discovered in London railway excavations in 2019 and has been buried inside St Mary and the Holy Rood, the village church in Donnington.

You can find more about Fiji on my website, in the Fiji Gallery and Fiji Resources page. As ever, I'd welcome your comments and questions about this post.

May you be blessed with feline friends,

Bernadette (B.M. Allsopp)


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